The Church of God

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
The Temple of Apollo, Corinth. Image courtesy of Alun Salt @Flickr. Released under CC BY-SA 2.0

When I was a student I was quite heavily involved with the Christian Union. I remember that the first few weeks of the Michaelmas Term each year were generally spent organising lots of trips to different churches so that our new members could find a church for themselves for the next three years. I often wondered what it was that people were looking for. Was it sound Biblical preaching? Was it good quality music? Was it a young congregation? Was it good provision of home groups? Was it decent coffee after the service? Was it cake?

The church that Paul writes to in Corinth is a troubled church. It is chaotic. It is riven with disagreements. People are falling out. People are taking each other to court. People are guilty of sexual sin. I suspect that if any of our students walked into a church like this they would have simply walked out, convinced that here was a failing organisation that should be left to collapse. Paul, however, does not write off this church. Indeed, in verse four of chapter one he says, “I always thank my God for you” and proceeds to outline the reasons he gives thanks. In doing so he shares some insights regarding the nature of the church. These insights remain relevant and instructional two thousand years later. 

So, what does Paul say about the nature of the church? What are the characteristics of, as Paul puts it in verse two, a ‘church of God’?

Paul says that the church of God is “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2). Christians, through Jesus, as a consequence of his death and resurrection, have been set apart for God. Our primary role as members of the church, of Christ’s body, is to serve God in all that we do. As a consequence of our sanctification we are called by God “to be his holy people” (1:2). What a privilege this is, that we should be called by God to be his!

This, of course, means we have a great responsibility. If we are called to be holy this has great significance for how we live our lives. Holiness is one of God’s characteristics; we proclaim his holiness in church when we sing, and when we share in the Eucharist. Holiness is not a natural characteristic of a human, since we sin every day. Yet Paul tells us that we are called to be God’s holy people.

Our response to this should be that we strive to be more like Christ, and strive to reflect him in our lives. This means refraining from sin as far as we possibly can. We will never be perfect in this life. We will never be blameless, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t aspire to live lives which are good, which honour God and other people, and that are as free from conscious sin as possible. If we are called to be holy by virtue of our sanctification, we should try and live lives that are pleasing to God. 

Paul says that as a church the Corinthians “have been enriched in every way” (1:4). God has lavished his blessings on them, and there is nothing that they lack in order to serve him. This is true for us today; it’s good to be reminded of this and to periodically reflect on all the gifts that God has given us both as a church and individually. In the case of the Corinthians, Paul specifically says they they have been enriched “with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge” (1:5). Corinthians were renowned for their intellectualism and love of wisdom. Paul sees these attributes as gifts from God that the Corinthians can and should be using to build up the church in Corinth.

Paul comments that this enrichment of the church is not limited just to speech and knowledge. He also says that his they have remained committed to his teaching (see verse 6), they “do not lack any spiritual gift” (verse 7). 

Paul explores what precisely these spiritual gifts are in much more detail in chapter twelve of this letter. He is clear that as Christians we all receive different gifts from the Holy Spirit. In chapter twelve Paul states, “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (12:4-6). God lavishes gifts on his church through the Holy Spirit. He equips us with these gifts to support us as we carry out God’s work. These gifts are further evidence that as a church we, like the Corinthians, “have been enriched in every way.”

We receive these Spiritual gifts if we accept the gospel. Paul tells the Corinthians that the presence of Spiritual gifts amongst them is a consequence of their acceptance of Paul’s teaching. He tells them that, “For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge – God thus confirming our testimony of Christ among you” (1:5-6). They have clearly accepted Jesus, and as a consequence, the Holy Spirit is lavishing gifts on them. When we accept Jesus, God also lavishes Spiritual gifts upon us.

Finally in his introductory remarks, Paul gives the great news that God will “keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:8-9). We can be assured that we believe in a faithful God who keeps his promises, and who will equip us for lifelong faith and trust in his son, Jesus Christ. God has called us to be members of his church, and since he is faithful he will ensure that Christ’s sacrifice for our sin will cover us from the moment he called us to faith until the moment he calls us to him at the end of our earthly lives. We can be tremendously reassured that we believe and trust in a faithful God; he has been faithful to us in the past and will continue to be faithful to us in the future. 

Paul has packed an incredible amount into the first nine verses of this letter. He tells us that we are sanctified, or set apart for God’s service. He tells us that we are enriched in every way with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He tells us that we believe in a faithful God who will keep us blameless to the end. What is revelatory, though, is that Paul is writing these words to the Corinthians – a divided church riven with division, in which sexual immorality is ignored and God’s gifts used inappropriately! This is a church that we would probably consider to be failing and undeserving of God’s blessings. And yet despite this, Paul is clear that the Corinthians remain blessed by God. How incredibly reassuring this is. How reassuring that even when we mess up, God remains faithful, still lavishes gifts upon us, and keeps us firm to the end.

Of course there are implications for how we live our lives today in these words. We need to live moral lives that honour God and mark us out as holy. We need to recognise our spiritual gifts and use them appropriately, working to build up the church of God where we live and around the world. And since God is faithful to us to the end, we should strive to also be faithful to the end of our lives, striving to put him first in all that we do.

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Love keeps no record of wrongs

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

In my day job, working as a teacher, the end of term is always a busy time. At the end of the summer term I found myself writing 150 end of year reports for my pupils. This was a particularly arduous task this year since my school has recently moved to a new management information system. This complex computer programme keeps details of all of our pupils, including records of all their good and bad behaviour.

As Christians we are fortunate to have a loving father in heaven who, unlike my school, does not keep a record of every time we do something wrong. Although we all sin many times every day, we can be confident that God has not only forgiven us, but that he wipes our slate clean every time. Since Jesus took all of our sin on himself on the cross and settled our debt with God, we are seen to be pure and blameless in his eyes.

If we are to live out one of the greatest commandments, to love our neighbour as ourselves, we should learn from the example God gives us. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, describes some of the characteristics of love. One of these is that love keeps no record of wrongs.

If we love our neighbour, we must accept that there will be times when they wrong us. Once we have suitably dealt with their wrongdoing, we must wipe their slate clean too; we must forget that they have ever wronged us and move forward in loving friendship. If we do not, our relationship with our neighbours will deteriorate and we will find ourselves burning up inside with anger. We must forgive and forget and not allow any actions they take to leave a permanent scar on our heart. This is by no means easy, but it is what we are required to do as Christians. It is an important part of loving our neighbours.

I pray today that we will not allow our hearts to be scarred by the actions or words of others. I pray that God will help us to forgive and forget, just as he has done with us.

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’.

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Love does not dishonour others

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Image source: joebehr @flickr

Image source: joebehr @flickr

I found myself perusing the newspapers and magazines at my local supermarket recently. I’m always amazed when I check the front pages of some magazines. They seem to be obsessed with the state of celebrities’ marriages and the size of women’s waists.

The reason that magazines publish this kind of material though is that we, their potential readers, have a great interest in celebrity gossip. Of course, it’s not just celebrity gossip. When I go to work, my colleagues are always keen to share the latest rumour surrounding someone we work with.

Quite often, there is little basis of truth behind these stories. They’re often based on an overheard whisper, or a comment taken out of context. They’re not out and out lies, but such stories could best be described as half truths.

It can be very easy to become a conduit for gossip. If we hear something potentially interesting about someone else, we can be quick to pass it on.

As Christians we have a responsibility to rise above rumour and gossip. Jesus tells us that one of the most important commandments is to love our neighbour as ourselves. The apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, helpfully tells us some of the characteristics of love. One is that love does not dishonour others.

If we discuss the lives of others, without knowing the full truth behind any story, that is precisely what we are doing; we are dishonouring them. What is more, if we pass on a story that we know know to be untrue, we are guilty of slander. Jesus himself described slander as ‘evil’ and said it ‘defiles a person’.

Let’s resolve this morning to steer clear of gossip and rumour. Let’s be sure that we do not dishonour another person with our words. And let’s ensure that we do not defile ourselves by slandering others. Instead, let’s aim to bring glory and honour to Christ with every word we speak.

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’.

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Love does not envy

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

My son, Daniel

My son, Daniel

My wife, Claire, and I recently welcomed our first child into the world. Daniel is a smiling, happy little boy who seems to bring joy everywhere he goes.

Prior to his birth, Claire and I enrolled on an NCT course. We found the course very helpful, not least because we met a group of good people who have become friends.

A few weeks ago we found ourselves at a barbecue at one of our NCT friend’s houses. I have to say, I was rather envious of their home. Whilst we live in a small flat, they have a large, detached house with a substantial garden.

I’m sure I’m not alone in envying what other people have from time to time. I’m sure that at some point you will have found yourself envying your friend’s home, or their car, or their summer holiday.

If we are to live by Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbours as ourselves, however, we should aim to steer clear of envy. In chapter thirteen of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that love does not envy. If we find ourselves envying others, then, we are lacking in love for them.

Envy is like jealousy. It suggests that we are not happy with our own lives and the blessings that we have received from our heavenly father. It indicates a wrong attitude, suggesting that we are focused on acquiring ‘stuff’.

Rather than envying others, we should be glad for what we have, be grateful to God for his provision, and pleased for the success of others. We should give thanks that ultimately our treasure is heaven, secured for us by Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection three days later.

I pray today that our attitude towards all those we encounter will be one of love, and that any envy we feel towards others will be eradicated by the Holy Spirit.

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’.

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Love is Kind

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-7
School Rules: Source http://www2.needham.k12.ma.us/eliot/technology/lessons/History_Needham/schoolhouse/photo/beach_06/beach_06.htmLife is full of rules. Stick to the speed limit, return your library books on time, put the loo seat down after you’ve finished.

As a teacher rules are a significant part of my life. As Head of Year 7 it is my job to ensure that rules are enforced. Thankfully in my school we don’t have hundreds of rules. We have one main rule, and that is simply Be Kind.

I think that’s a pretty good rule. I think that the apostle Paul would agree. In 1 Corinthians chapter 13 he tells us that ‘love is kind’. If we strive as Christians to love our neighbour, as Jesus commands his followers to do, one of the simplest ways of doing so is simply to follow my school’s most important rule, to ‘Be Kind’.

It sounds simple enough. Yet if we are to Be Kind to everyone whom we encounter, it can require a bit of effort. It’s easy to Be Kind to those whom we like, but what about our irritating neighbours, the person at work who routinely mocks us because of our beliefs, or the person at church who bores us over coffee after the service every single week? Being kind to people that we don’t really like can be a challenge.

Jesus is the ultimate example of kind living. For him, being kind was not just a thought or an attitude, but an action that defined who he was. He demonstrated kindness to all those whom he encountered through his compassion. Even as hung on the cross, dying for you and for me, he demonstrated kindness to those who crucified him by praying for their forgiveness.

Let us strive today to be kind to all those whom we encounter, displaying Christ’s compassion even to those we dislike.

As featured on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Inspirational Breakfast’.

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